(Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Stories being told on a new website reveal tales of ten years of discrimination and bigotry against religious minorities in the post-9/11 era in America.
The project, titled "Unheard Voices of 9/11," officially launched online Friday and calls for people to share their experiences about being discriminated, targeted and demoralized because of their spiritual and cultural beliefs.
Religious leaders are in favor of the website saying it highlights the growing number of hate crimes, physical threats, and profiling of ethnic groups in America.
The new website ultimately aims at trying to bring attention to what some call a "confused generation of discrimination" against Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs and others in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We were all affected by 9/11, but the mainstream media has not always covered our stories," said Sapreet Kaur, executive director of The Sikh Coalition, one of the groups spearheading the effort.
"This website is our chance to tell our stories, so that our voices are no longer unheard."
Christian and Jewish leaders say the comments and actions against certain ethnic groups "shows a frightening lack of understanding" of their principles.
Against a background of mounting anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, Baptist and other religious leaders are speaking out against Islamophobia and urge federal officials to take a more proactive role in safeguarding Muslims’ civil rights.
“We’re shifting from fear to fear-mongering, from misunderstanding to misinformation, from legitimate speech to hate speech to hate violence,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, at a conference at Washington’s Western Presbyterian Church.
The church was chosen as the setting for a recent conference partially because its sanctuary hosts weekly prayer services for Muslim students at the adjacent George Washington University campus.
Jeffrey Haggray, pastor of Washington’s First Baptist Church, called the upswing in anti-Muslim rhetoric “truly unacceptable” and says Christian and other religious leaders have a special responsibility to speak out against it.
“The acts of violence that are now surfacing against Muslims, mosques and other Islamic symbols are directly linked to the vitriolic and incendiary rhetoric and actions we have seen in recent weeks,” he said.
“We are duty-bound to publicly condemn these actions both as Americans and as people of faith.”
As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches, U.S. Muslims say they feel even more public resentment.
On the new website, Rabia Sajid described a man pulling up in a car in New York and yelling, "Go back to your country, otherwise I'm going to kill you."
She said the pastor of a church where she was being tutored suggested the best thing to do was not wear her Muslim headscarf so she wouldn't be targeted. This is something her parents likewise promoted, for her safety.
Banjot Sing, a Sikh, recalled on a video posted on the Unheard Voices website how a police officer questioned him and a friend aboard a train out of Manhattan because a fellow passenger "thought we were dangerous."
Political experts continue to examine where the hatred and profiling comes from and from what groups.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows that the majority of Americans know very little about Islam. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that more than half of Americans already hold negative views about Islam.
Studies also show there is a growing fear among Muslim groups that sows widespread distrust between most religions.
Several high-profile FBI cases show hate crimes and cases in which Muslims and Sikhs faced opposition to projects due to their religion and heritage. It is also evidence of the rising discrimination.
Anti-Muslim frenzy has grew sharply in the United States over plans to build a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, resulting in attacks on Muslims and their property.
Moreover, U.S. Muslims say they sense a growing hostility from most Americans wherever they go.
"In my community, people are very afraid – that's the reality," Anoop Prasad, a northern California resident who works for the Asian Law Caucus, told the media in a statement this week.
Some memories posted on Unheard Voices are from the days immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Within six days of the attacks, the FBI reports that the agency initiated 40 hate crime investigations into alleged murders, attacks and arson directed at Americans who are Muslims, South Asians and Arabs.
Other posts on the website are more recent, showing that hatred is not going away.
One blogger posted, “These 10 years have been pure fear, being scared of the next step, being scared of the next place we're going to go ... what my brother might face, what my dad might face, what I might face.”
Baptist and other religious-liberty leaders met with Department of Justice officials recently to urge them to act quickly, according to a press advisory about the meeting. A statement from the meeting reads, “to protect and preserve religious freedoms and the rights of all Americans, including millions of Muslims, to live and practice their faith freely, without fear of violence or intimidation.”
At the same time, some organizations that monitor persecution of Christians around the globe are warning that the heated debates over Islam in the United States could have deadly repercussions for Christians living in majority-Muslim countries.
Carl Moeller, president of the Christian group Open Doors USA, says Christians seem to come across as hating Muslims.
"That is exactly the opposite message we as Christians want to send," he said.
"We have to want to reach out in love to them.”
The population of Muslims in the United States is estimated to be between 6 million and 8 million.